Key West is the Best- Day Two

The best way to wake up after a late night out is to just pick up right where you left off; grab yourself a Bloody Mary, and keep yourself moving. I am an early riser so I was up despite the late night/early morning prior. It is truly a blessing and curse. A blessing because I get to enjoy the quiet and stillness that the morning often brings. A curse because my body was starved for much-needed rest. Coffee is the first thing I drink every single morning. It is one of the few constants in my life. I bring my own Mama Mocha’s Coffee with me whenever I travel. Our AirBnB was stocked with a coffee pot and filters and after a quick walk around the block to the supermarket for my favorite creamer, I was set.

I spent my morning reading on the front porch and drinking my coffee while all my housemates caught up on their rest. Our porch overlooked the gorgeous Curry Mansion. It was nice to watch the beautiful bed and breakfast start to come alive for the day. I think if we were to ever return, I would love to stay there. However, I do enjoy the amenities and sense of being at home that vacation rentals afford.

Once everyone started to rise, I was anxious for us to decide on somewhere to eat because it was almost midday. The groom suggested we stroll down Caroline Street a few blocks and meet his incoming family at one of their favorite places, B.O.’s Fish Wagon. A staple in Key West for over twenty-five years, this no-frills shack just blocks from the water is a must stop. They are known for their conch fritters with key lime mayo and Cuban sandwiches. We ordered the conch fritter appetizer, my husband had a Cuban sandwich, and I tried their burger. The conch fritters were good, and my burger was absolutely delicious. Between the coffee and the burger, I felt like a new woman.

After lunch, my husband and I separated from the group to go and see the Hemingway House, which was on my list of must-do’s while in Key West.  It was a short stroll from our rental house down our favorite street, Whitehead Street. Along the way, we passed the impressive Kapok Tree and many banyan trees; truly a botanists dream. We popped into a few local shops for souvenirs, and could not resist making a pit stop at our favorite bar, The Green Parrot.

After having a quick cocktail, we wandered down a few more blocks to the breath-taking estate of Ernest Hemingway. We arrived midday, and I was happy to see there were not hoards of people visiting. We slowly wandered throughout the house, stopping to pet the numerous kitties (some with six toes) and taking pictures of all the nostalgic memorabilia of one of my favorite authors. They offered guided tours throughout the home, but in an effort to avoid the crowd, we chose to do a self-guided tour and kept to ourselves. The lush lawn, the picturesque pool, and the overall ambiance of the property are captivating.

Later, we cleaned up for a nice dinner at a spot recommended to us by the groom’s mother, Bagatelle on Duval. This was hands down one of the best dining experiences we had while on the island. The atmosphere was tropical and intimate. We were seated in the upstairs dining room overlooking the moon lounge. We made the reservation last minute, so I was thankful they were able to accommodate us on such short notice. We started with cocktails and moved into wine with dinner. They had an excellent selection of cocktails and wines. For an appetizer, we shard the octopus salad and the barbecue shrimp wrapped in bacon. For my entree, I ordered the whole fried snapper. I had only had snapper like this before on one of our trips to Puerto Rico. I was really excited to see it on the menu here and to be taken back for a moment to our time in Culebra. The snapper was better than I could have hoped for, and I really like the Thai chili sauce that lightly covered the snapper. My husband had the yellowfin dish and it was equally tasty.

After dinner, we hurried down to Mallory Square to catch the sunset celebration and meet back up with our group. We had perfect timing and caught all the excitement. Our visit to Key West coincided with the Conch Republic Independence celebrations. They were having boat wars out in the water, there was a conch shell blower, and all kinds of exciting activities going on pier side. One of the more unusual acts we saw was that of Cat Man, Dominique LeFort. He has a slew of cats that he has trained to jump through fiery hoops and walk tight-ropes. It was intriguing to say the least. He is a staple act on the pier in Key West.

After the sun had set, our group ventured over to the Smoking Tuna off Charles Street. They had a live band playing, and everyone was having a great time. We hopped around after leaving here until we all ended up back at the house to rest up for what would be another eventful day.

B.O.’s Fish Camp on Caroline Street.
Really cool looking banyan trees everywhere.
The Kapok Tree on Whitehead Street.
Sidewalk quotes are throughout the Key.
Back at The Green Parrot.
Hemingway House Historical Maker.
Such an exquisite property. Can I live here?
Lord cat of the manner. He was huge….
And he has SIX toes!
If this pool could talk!
Exceptional dinner menu at Bagatelle on Duval Street.
Octopus and fresh tomato salad with Parmesan crisps.
Key West pink shrimp wrapped in bacon with a spicy chipotle sauce.
Whole fried snapper with a thai chili sauce served with jasmine rice.
Sesame Yellowfin Tuna with udon noodles, pickled edamame and a peanut sauce.
Sunset walking up to Sunset Pier at the end of Duval Street.
Key West Cat Man, Dominque LeFort.

Chicken Piccata

Here is my simple recipe for chicken piccata:

  • 1-2 boneless chicken breast (I like to cut mine in half and make thinner slices of chicken, so sometimes one breast is enough to feed two people)
  • Salt and peppers
  • 2-3 Fresh squeezed lemons
  • 1 small jar of capers
  • Stick of butter
  • Olive oil
  • Flour
  • Egg
  • Parmesan (if desired)

Butterfly the chicken breast reducing the thickness of the breast. I also use a meat mallet to pound the breast out even thinner. I like the crispiness that the thinner breast yield, and I find the chicken is easier to eat when thinner.

After cutting up the chicken, and getting it to the desired thickness I want, I season the chicken with salt and pepper on both sides. In a non-stick pan add half a stick of butter and several tablespoons of oil. You want a good enough amount to fry your chicken in. In another bowl mix together flour, salt, and pepper (and you can add Parmesan).

Once your oil/butter mix is hot enough to start frying, dredge the cuts of chicken in the flour and begin frying the chicken until golden brown on both sides. Set cooked pieces of chicken on a plate with a paper towel to remove any excess grease while cooking the remaining chicken. Once all chicken is completely cooked there should be little grease left in pan. I clean this out and start out with a fresh pan for making my sauce. Some people will leave the remaining grease, cleaning out any brown bits, a use this as a base for making the sauce.

With a clean pan, add another half stick of butter, the juice of about 2-3 fresh lemons, and the small jar of capers. Allow this to blend together and simmer for a few minutes. Add your cooked chicken to this sauce and let simmer for a few more minutes. I usually use a small spoon to help pour the sauce over the chicken as it simmers to help spread the flavor.

That’s it. Serve over noodles, mashed potatoes, or my favorite, wild rice. We also typically add a green vegetable such as broccoli or asparagus as a side.

This dish is excellent reheated the next day as well. Absolutely one of our favorites!

The Blue Fin Auburn

Friday evening we were fortunate to check out the newest restaurant coming to Auburn.  Located in the rapidly developing Bent Creek area in Auburn, the Blue Fin will have it’s official opening next week on Monday, May 14th. The Blue Fin will be the newest addition to the new strip mall development in the Sam’s Club/Academy Sports shopping center in Auburn, just down from the newly opened Moe’s BBQ.

The Blue Fin will be a seafood-focused restaurant and bar. Friday evening was their soft opening, which is a tactic that many businesses will use to ensure a more successful business by opening the doors without any advertising or other fanfare normally associated with the grand opening. This allows the business an opportunity to obtain valuable practice and often insight into improvements that can be made prior to the official opening.

We had an early reservation for at 5 PM since we had a concert in Waverly, Alabama later that evening. The dining space is cozy, bright, and clean. It is always nice to enter a seafood restaurant and not be overpowered by an odor of fish. Also, it is swell to have another quality seafood option in our area. There is a beautiful blue mosaic tile bar immediately to the right in the front entrance. There is also a patio seating off to the right of the building. Unfortunately, it’s already 90 degrees in Alabama this May, so the air conditioning was a welcomed option.

We started with cocktails. I had the cucumber mojito and my husband had his usual Maker’s Mark on the rocks. They have ample cocktail and wine selections to choose from. For an appetizer, we ordered the Fin Fin shrimp, which was a flash-fried, light-battered shrimp with a spicy sauce covering them. The shrimp tasted fresh,  the presentation was nice, and the sauce was delicious. Only wish there had been more of it. We also both had small Cesar salad, which was excellent.

For our entrees, I ordered the panéed chicken with a lemon caper sauce, and my husband ordered the blackened snapper. The panéed chicken was yummy. The light batter on the chicken was just right, and I really enjoyed the lemon caper sauce. The mashed potatoes were savory and very tasty. My husband’s snapper was flaky and moist. The grits were flavorful and the spicy sauce was a nice balance to the dish. The ‘Louisiana Popcorn’ were little-fried crawfish tails.

We did not have time for dessert this evening since we only had a little time left to make it our next destination for the night. The restaurant was full and bustling by the time we asked for our check. We had a delightful experience, and I hope to see this place flourish and add value to the emerging restaurant scene in our area.

Entrance to The Blue Fin in Bent Creek, Auburn.
Excellent cocktail menu. Feels like being at the beach!
Dinner Menu
Main dining room. Art work being installed this weekend.
Cucumber Mojito
Fin Fin shrimp appetizer.
Peneed Chicken with Lemon Caper Sauce.
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Blackened Snapper with Louisiana Popcorn.

Downtown Auburn Family Supper

On a warm spring evening residents of Auburn and Opelika gathered in downtown Auburn for the first ever Downtown Family Supper. We had previously attended a similar event in downtown Dothan a few years back, and I was really excited to see the idea brought to the “Loveliest Village on the Plains”. Tichenor Avenue, between College Street and Gay Street in downtown, was blocked off for the evening for this special event. Farm tables and sparkly lights were lined down the center of the street for the most picturesque scene. The dinner was served “family style” which is comprised of large portions passed and shared among the tables. The weather couldn’t have been better, and the night was overall blissful.

Six of downtown Auburn’s chefs came together to create the food offerings.  The dream team was comprised of  (in no particular order) David Bancroft & Caleb Fischer of Acre, Leonardo Maurelli and of Ariccia Trattoria, Scott Simpson of The Depot, Robbie Nicolaisen of The Hound, Miguel Figueroa of Amsterdam Cafe, and Patrick Gallagher of Hamilton’s on Magnolia. They all donated their talents & time for the evening, along with much of their restaurant staff also volunteering their time to help with the serving of the food and wine. All the proceeds from the supper will benefit the non-profit organizations, Downtown Merchants Association and Nourish Alabama. Nourish, AL was created through a partnership between Hornsby Farms and Pediatric Associates of Auburn with a mission of providing food insecure families in Lee County and the surrounding community with healthy nutritious foods and the tools to prepare them. This dinner with out a doubt embodied, in so many ways, the great community we are so fortunate to live in.

Each attendee enjoyed a five course meal, wine, and entertainment by Martha’s Trouble. The wines for the evening were Hahn Pinot Noir and Flint & Steel Sauvignon Blanc. Both wines paired really well with all the dishes served. The Sauvignon Blanc was especially nice with the Togarashi tuna poke prepared by Scott Simpson of The Depot and the bright beet salad prepared by David Bancroft of Acre. The Hahn Pinot Noir was particularly good with the incredible, fall-apart Heritage Farm pork ribs with the watermelon molasses prepared by Chef Robbie Nicolaisen.

Every dish that was served was incredibly delicious and every bite was thoroughly enjoyed. All efforts that went into making this inaugural event special were above and beyond. Although Auburn is changing in many ways, the core of who we are as an Auburn family is strong and unwavering. Proud to be a part of this place we love calling home.

The tablescape for the evening.
Chef David Bancroft adding the secret sauce to his brussel sprout salad.
What an appetizing menu!?!
Amazing collaborative effort! Go team!
Chef Scott Simpon’s Tuna Togarashi Tuna Poke.
Chef Scott Simpson of The Depot on Mitcham Avenue downtown Auburn.
Chef Bancroft’s golden beet salad, sultanas, fried peanuts, and mint.
Chef Bancroft’s shaved brussels sprouts, peach vinaigrette, smoked bacon and blue cheese.
Chef Miguel Figueroa’s chicken chicharrones with a garlic mayo ketchup.
Chef Robbie Nicolaisen’s roasted carrots, pepper jelly, burrata, and pistachio dukkah.
Chef Patrick Gallagher’s signature macaroni and cheese.
Chef Leo Maurelli’s extruded pasta primavera, local veggies, arugula, and pecan pesto.
Chef Figueoa’s pineapple upside down spiced rum cake with piña colada buttercream.

 

Wine selections for the evening, Hahn Pinot Noir and Flint & Steel Sauvignon Blanc.

Key West is the Best- Day One

“We didn’t come here to lose weight or save money!” – Andrew Harris

We recently took a trip to Key West, Florida to celebrate a good friend’s wedding. I had never been to the island and was very excited to explore a new place and discover new things. I had compiled a list of all the things I wanted to accomplish during my first visit to the Southernmost city. Top of the list was to try conch, followed by seeing the Hemingway House, and hopefully working on my tan. We easily accomplished all of these during our stay on the island. I could see quickly why our friends love this place and chose to marry here.

We had a non-stop flight from Atlanta to Key West. Delta Airlines gave our entire wedding party drink vouchers. The celebrations started off from the jump. The flight was smooth and quick. The airport in Key West is tiny.  Grabbing our luggage and hopping in a taxi was easy and took seconds. We were at our rental house within a flash of an eye, which was centrally located just a block off Duval Street. We unloaded our luggage and started cruising on our bikes, which had already been delivered to our house by Eaton Bikes. I loved the ease of being able to go everywhere via a quick bike ride or a short walk. Everything is literally within a few blocks.

We were fortunate to be traveling with long-time Key West locals. They were perfect guides for the trip. We saw and ate everything that was ‘a must’ during a trip to the Key. First, we biked down Caroline Street to the Half Shell Raw Bar on the marina. This was a perfect first stop. They had all the fresh seafood our hearts desired and water views. We ordered raw oysters, fresh shrimp, conch fritters, and the fresh catch fish sandwich. I was delightfully surprised at how delicious the conch fritters were. I am not certain I would enjoy a raw version of conch but served inside the yummy hush-puppyish breading, they were very enjoyable. You cannot go to the “Conch Republic” and not have conch.

After having a late lunch at the Half Shell, we wandered over to Schooner’s Wharf Bar. This was another local dive bar on the water off the Historic Seaport harbor walk. They had every drink you could imagine, including my favorite vacation drink, the frozen piña colada. They had live music, plenty of seating, and as most places are, were pet-friendly. Within hours of being in Key West, I was in love. You can walk or bike everywhere. You can get fresh seafood just about every place you stop. Best of all, you can take your pups with you most places. This place is pretty close to heaven on earth.

We continued wandering around the island from here biking the two miles to West Martello Tower on the opposite side of the island. This was to be the location of the wedding ceremony.  The island is flat and there is a nice sea breeze in the air which made biking around delightful. I preferred it to walking, however, some of the gentlemen in the group would beg to differ. We briefly toured the gardens at the tower and took in some nice beach views while the bride and groom worked on finalizing the upcoming wedding day details.

From West Martello, we continued to the Key West courthouse to get the marriage license. While they ironed out the last few wedding details, we waited at The Green Parrot on Whitehead Street, directly across from the courthouse. Born out of an 1890’s grocery store, the now Green Parrot came to life in the 70’s and has long since been a watering-hole haven for all walks of life. This ended up being my favorite bar during our time on the island. They had the best live music and some of the best people watching.

It was hard to pull us away from The Green Parrot, but our hungry stomachs helped. We ventured over to Pepe’s Cafe for dinner based on a recommendation from the mother of the groom, who lived in Key West for close to twenty years. Her recommendations during our entire trip were spot on. She lured everyone with the promise that every Thursday night is Thanksgiving at Pepe’s. This dinner special entailed Thanksgiving turkey, dressing, gravy, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, cornbread, and green beans. My husband and I ordered some of the stone crab claws as well, which is one of my absolute favorite things on earth.  The owner was a friend of the groom’s mom and sent out a slice of Key lime pie for us to all share. You cannot go to Key West and not have Key lime pie. All of it was food for the soul and made you feel like you were home.

After dinner, we wandered back down to The Green Parrot and danced the night away to a Grateful Dead cover band. Perfect ending to our exciting first day in Key West.

Green Parrot Barn on Whitehead Street.
Pepe’s  on Caroline.
Schooner’s Wharf Bar on William’s Street. Next to the marina.
Deplaning on the runway and walking into the airport.
Our AirBnB one block from Duval.
Half Shell Raw Bar
Inside the fort at West Martello.
Gardens at West Martello Tower.
Green Parrot Package Store adjacent to the bar on Whitehead Street.

Hornsby Farm Spring Harvest Dinner

Last night we attended the Spring Harvest Dinner at Hornsby Farms in Auburn, Alabama. The farm is a short drive from Auburn,  located just south of town off College Street. After turning off the main highway, you make a short drive down a dirt road and you land in what feels like the middle of the country. The weather was mild and enjoyable, and there was not a cloud in the sky. The beautiful orange and blue sunset sky that is the embodiment of life on the plains was a beautiful backdrop for the commencement of our evening.

The chef for this particular dinner was Caleb Fischer of Acre in Auburn, Alabama. The chef for these dinners rotates around, and we were really pleased to have to opportunity to enjoy some of Caleb’s cooking. He is currently the Chef de Cuisine at Acre, and he will be the Executive Chef at their new restaurant Bow & Arrow when they open later this year. We were able to celebrate a little bit Caleb making it to the finale of the Spring Baking Championship on the Food Network last evening. I know the entire community has enjoyed watching him succeed in the competition, and cannot wait to see what other great things are in the future for him.

All the food that was served for this event came directly from the farm, including the pork. Truly farm to table. Hornsby Farms grows over one hundred varieties of fruits and vegetables on their farm year round. They offer weekly produce basket deliveries in the local area. They also work with many of the local restaurants that you may have dined in, such as, Acre, Moores Mill Club, Amsterdam Café, and SpringHouse, to name a few. We were able to tour the farm prior to dinner, and I really enjoyed getting to see all the chickens, ducks, pigs (Okra and Squash), and hear Josh tell us about what he had planted for the upcoming summer months.

After the sun had set, we all gathered around the barn. The Hornsby family welcomed everyone out for the evening, and Chef Caleb discussed his preparation of all the food we were about to eat. It was interesting to hear his story of harvesting the pig and the care and consideration they took in the butchery of the animal. The event was very reminiscent of a boucherie in Lousiana, which Caleb made reference to, full of food, libations, and fellowship.

Along with the savory pork we were served stewed cabbage with radishes, succotash full of limas & corn, a roasted cauliflower and broccoli crudité salad, and very tasty dirty rice. Instead of providing the traditional, typical sauces served with barbecue, we were offered a variation of their farm made jams and jellies, my favorite being the peach habañero jelly. I also put a dollop of the jelly in my succotash, like you would a chow- chow. The meal was soulfully delicious and getting to know all the other people at our table made the evening that much more interesting.

For dessert, Caleb finished the meal with a cornbread cake with strawberry preserves. The cornbread cake was divine, and Caleb incorporated some of Beth’s Sweet Heat Pepper Jelly into the strawberry mix, adding a little bit of a surprising heat to the dessert. The only thing that could have made it better, would have been a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

As the night dwindled down we gathered around the bonfire while we finished our desserts and sipped on what wine we had left. I could have stayed in that exact spot all evening if my schedule would have allowed. The peaceful silence, cool air, and the starlit skies almost made me want to consider farm living. If you ever have the chance check out Hornsby Farms and all the wonderful things they have to offer!

Beautiful skies over the farm.
Farm tables made by Josh Hornsby.
Campfire seating area.
All food, minus the pig, this evening was cooked in cast iron on the open fire.
This little piggy went to market.
Happy plate full of dirty rice, succotash, pork with Beth’s pepper jelly, cabbage with radishes, and broccoli & cabbage crudité salad.

Going back to Macon

We enjoy getting out of town from time to time to change up the pace of life, try something new, and more times than not, to go see live music. One of our favorite places to go is Macon, Georgia. Just an hour past Columbus, it is a quick, easy trip for us to make. Macon is home of the Allman Brother’s Band, Otis Redding, Little Richard, and Chuck Leavell, to name a few of the famous musicians from this town. The music history here is incredibly rich and makes this town a mecca for musical artists that are passing through. Macon has been a part of my life since 2002 when I saw my first Widespread Panic show at the Macon Coliseum (now Centreplex).  Little did I know almost sixteen years ago that when I passed through this town for a concert, that I would find myself returning here time and time again.

We have a solid routine when we get into town. Today our first stop was Gregg Allman’s graveside in Rose Hill Cemetery. It is a beautiful cemetery, with rolling hills making their way down to the riverside. This cemetery was established in 1840. Some may find it morbid, but it is actually a very serene property, and on a pretty day is a great place to take a stroll. I was first attracted to stop here to visit Berry Oakley and Duane Allman’s graveside. Being a long time Allman Brothers fan, this stop and a stop at The Big House Museum are a must. You could spend an entire day just visiting both of these places. The Big House is truly a magical place. The Allman Brothers lived here during their early days of building the band, and you can really feel a special presence in the house, and for me, all over town.

After Gregg Allman passed last year I have visited his graveside a handful of times. He is laid to rest in an unmarked grave directly to the left of his brother Duane. The first time I visited, it was sad to see just a chain marking the grave, but with each visit, a sprinkling of flowers and ceramic mushrooms are filling up what is now a makeshift memorial to Gregg. The staff at The Big House said a headstone is coming, but there is no estimated time when it will be in place. While paying our respects, we chatted with another gentleman who was doing the same. He introduced himself as Tony Coleman. He was very kind and spoke to us as we were long lost friends. He told us he played with B.B. King for over 35 years and was playing with the act, Jamey Johnson, that we were in town to see. We saw him at the show later that night, and he came up and gave us a hug like we were old friends. This is a perfect example of a Macon, Georgia experience. Even though were are there to enjoy a town where we know no one, we always leave having made new friends, and having experienced something exciting.

For dinner, we went back to a place we had visited once before, The Dovetail in the heart of downtown Macon on Cherry Street. We really like this location because not only is the food really tasty, but it is located in close proximity to The Cox Capitol theater (now the Hargray Theater) and the Macon City Auditorium. We can park downtown and walk everywhere we need to go. The Dovetail is located upstairs above another great place to stop in for a bite, The Rookery. I would describe the Rookery as more casual and pub-ish, whereas The Dovetail is a little more of an upscale and refined dining experience.

We were dressed a little more casual, did not have a reservation and opted to sit at the bar this particular evening. Most of the time I prefer the comfort and service afforded with having a table, but tonight we enjoyed sitting at the bar. Our bartender was extremely attentive and we enjoyed talking with him. Our server from a previous visit came by to say hello, even calling us by name. We felt welcome and at home. We started out with cocktails, per usual. I had the “Out of Season” and my husband had his usual, Maker’s Mark on the rocks. We contemplated for a little bit on how exactly we wanted to order our food. Everything on the menu looked appetizing, and from previous experience, I knew it would be equally delicious. We could not decide between sharing several small plates, or sharing few small plates and ordering our own entrees. We ended up with a blend of both, and a delightful dining experience.

For appetizers, we shared several of their small plates, the deviled eggs, the house cold pickled veggie plate, and the beet quinoa salad. I am fairly picky about my deviled eggs, and these passed my scrutinization. They were creamy, almost a fluffy whip of deviled egg goodness. The house cold pickled veggie plate introduced me to several new pickle preparations for veggies I had never thought of, nor experienced prior. Pickled brussel sprouts, cumin pickled carrots, and sweet, pickled rhubarb where some of the standouts for me. I love beets too, so I knew when I saw the beet and quinoa salad, we had to order it. The beets were tender and did not have an overpowering earthiness to them. They were tossed in a blue cheese, quinoa, pecans, honey oregano vinaigrette, and  a little bit of shaved celery for crunch. Everything was divine, and we cleared every single plate.

For our entrees, I ordered another small plate, the Wagyu sirloin top, and my husband ordered their special for the evening, “The Going Back to Macon” Burger. The name of the special was a play on a Jamey Johnson song titled ‘Going Back to Macon’. I got one bite of it and it was savory and delicious. Had a nice smoke on the meat. My Wagyu was cooked just as ordered. I did not even use my steak knife. The tender, delectable Wagyu was in a base of shiitake mushroom cream sauce, roasted rutabaga puree, and a carrot top chimichurri. Simply scrumptious.

If you get a wild hair and want to get out of town, I highly recommend you put Macon, Georgia on your radar. Visit The Big House, walk through Rose Hill, take a musical tour with the Rock Candy tour company, watch some live music, go to Grant’s Lounge or the Hummingbird, and stay at the 1842 Inn. Get out and live life!

Dinner Menu at The Dovetail in Macon, Georgia
His and Her’s Cocktails for the Evening, “Out of Season” & Maker’s Mark
Pickled Veggie Plate.
Deviled Eggs
Beet Quinoa Salad
Wagyu Sirloin Top
House Mac N Cheese for two
Going Back to Macon Burger

 

Iron Chef Wine Dinner

Last evening we were able to attend the Iron Chef Wine Dinner at Acre in Auburn, Alabama. David Bancroft, chef and restaurant owner, won the Iron Chef battle on the Food Network back in December. Our community could not be more proud or happy for him, his family, and his team. The dinner featured a five course menu based around the dishes that helped David win the competition on Iron Chef. Tickets for this event sold out in minutes. We felt very fortunate to be able to attend.

The wines paired with each course were from the Honig Winery out of Rutherford, California. Michael Honig was in attendance and spoke about the winery and the wines that were paired with each course. I was lucky enough to visit this picturesque winery with my husband a few years back. We attended a wine dinner in their vineyards for the summer solstice. It is an exquisite property, and I strongly encourage you to visit if you are ever in the area.

Cocktails started at 6 PM. Guests were welcomed into the dining area by servers carrying trays of the first wine pairing, which was as 2017 Napa Sauvignon Blanc. This was paired with a short rib tartare, which was served on a crostini with an oyster mayo, lime, and radish greens. They were also passing around a delectable lagniappe David had prepared, a Conecuh sausage and oyster donut with a cheesy mustard sauce on top. They were absolutely divine! I hope to see these on the menu in the future.

The dinner was assembled in the bar area of the restaurant.  Two long tables were lined up in a farm table style setting. We had a great time getting to know our companions at the table who shared our love for food and wine. Christin, David’s wife, did an a marvelous job with the decor for the dinner. I loved the personal touches used for the place cards. They were Honig wine corks that had been halved and held the place card for each seat. The flowers arranged down the center of the tables were exquisite. C. Wayman Floral & Events  did the floral arrangements for this event, and also keep the restaurant regularly styled with beautiful bouquets of flowers. I have been a long time follower of theirs on social media and have always admired their striking floral designs.

As everyone took their seats, Christin welcomed and thanked everyone for attending. David came out and talked about the preparation for all the dishes. Listening to him describe his food is absolutely captivating. You can easily see and hear his excitement for his thoughtfully constructed dishes. He is genuinely excited for you to eat his food, and the excitement is contagious. Caleb Fischer, the Chef de Cuisine at Acre and future Executive Chef at the soon to open sister property Bow and Arrow, spoke on the final course, the bone marrow pots de crème. Caleb is also a local celebrity. We have thoroughly enjoyed watching him compete on the Spring Baking Championship, also on  Food Network. We hope he can too bring back a win for our hometown!

For the second course, we were served David’s famous Alabama tamales. He makes them with a sweet potato masa, spicy chorizo, and wraps them in collard greens, versus the traditional corn husk. On this particular evening, he had the tamales atop a bed of a melon vinaigrette. Listening to him describe the preparation of the vinaigrette had my mouth watering. The delicate sweetness of the melon vinaigrette paired perfectly with the spiciness of the chorizo. The 2016 Rutherford Reserve Sauvignon Blanc paired sublimely with these flavors as well.

The third course was a St. Louis style rib that had been coated in a chicken skin streusel and blackberry preserves. Being a true southerner, they won my heart at chicken skin; Yummy, crispy chicken skin. These were by far the best ribs I have ever had. The deep, rich flavors of the preserves coating the rib, and the subtle crunch of the delicious chicken skins were mind blowing. This course was the introduction to the red wine pairings. The pairing for this courses was a 2015 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon.

The fourth course consisted of another style of rib, a slow smoked beef short rib. The wine pairing for this dish was my favorite of the dinner. The bold, robust flavor of the 2014 Bartolucci Cabernet Sauvignon stood up to the rich, complex flavors of this rib dish. The beef rib was covered in a roasted beet gravy and Alabama morel jam. There was a little bit of raw celery and peas atop the rib that added a little extra crunch and texture to the savory, fall-apart rib. The beet gravy and morel jam were out of this world good! I hope these two items will be a mainstay on the menu at Acre as well.

The final course was a heavenly dessert, which was paired with a 2016 Napa Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc. The dessert was a bone marrow pots de crème that had a toasted hazelnut sprinkled atop a lemon curd with a red ribbon sorrel garnish. This pairing and dish was the favorite of our dinner companions. The bright lemon was subdued by the bone marrow, and the hazelnut crunch on top added texture to the dish. Caleb really has a knack for making incredible desserts.

We had a delightful evening at the Iron Chef Dinner. The food and wine pairings were sheer perfection. We enjoyed getting to meet the other diners and share with them our love of food and wine. We are so proud of Acre and their team. They do an exemplary job of demonstrating true Southern hospitality, and we are truly blessed to have them in our community.

Beautiful tablescape.
David Bancroft (right) and Caleb Fischer (left) talking about the menu.
Michael Honig talking about his winery and wines.
Short Rib Tartare.
Conecuh sausage and oyster donut with a cheesy mustard sauce on top.
Alabama tamales.
St. Louis Style Rib with chicken skin streusel.
Personal touches!
Slow Smoked Beef Short Rib.
Bone Marrow Pot de Crème.
(L-R) David Bancroft of Acre, John Mark Davis of International Wines, Michael Honig of Honig Winery.

 

 

Cart Barn Grille

Just a short drive from Opelika, Alabama up I-85 north, you will find some of the best seafood in the south at The Cart Barn Grille in LaGrange, Georgia.

There are zero frills and no pretentiousness, just plain good food. We were introduced to The Cart Barn Grille a few years ago by a dear friend of ours who frequented the restaurant so much they named a dish after him, the Grouper Willi. We were told that they had incredible seafood dishes, and a laid back atmosphere that could not be beat.

The original Cart Barn was located just off Exit 13 on interstate I-85 in Georgia. They were forced out of that location due to the construction of the new, large Great Wolf Lodge. Originally, owner Tony Bishop, thought this might be his time to retire, but the demand for his food was too strong. Thankfully, the stars aligned and an even better location was found. Now the new and improved Cart Barn Grille is located at 625 Jefferson Street in the historic Hillside neighborhood of LaGrange, Georgia. The neighborhood is up and coming, with Beacon Brewery going in just across the street from the Cart Barn’s new location. I am excited to see the progress these new businesses will bring to the area. I love to see a town embrace their historic buildings and neighborhoods.

We arrived at The Cart Barn Friday evening to find a wait. Expect to find a wait most any time you go here. I consider a wait a good thing. It usually is a good indication of the quality of food you are going to get. The wait has never been unbearable, and we enjoy ‘tailgating’ in the parking lot talking with friends while we wait. They serve lunch on Monday, and have dinner and lunch service Tuesday-Friday. They are closed on the weekends. Even with atypical hours, this place is booming nonstop, and it is due to one simple reason, delicious food.

For appetizers we took a non-traditional route and ordered “off the menu” starters. We ordered one of their delicious cheeseburgers and split it with the table. For some added tastiness, we also ordered the fried shrimp a la carte. Their fried shrimp is some of the best I have ever had. The batter is light and crispy, and the shrimp is fresh and tender. If you order this combination, they will definitely know who sent you.

My favorite entrée on the menu is the Grouper Willi. The grouper is sauteed in lemon pepper, served over a bed of mashed potatoes, with lump crab meat, broccolini, and covered in a delicious beurre blanc and avocado aoili. The fish is fresh and flaky, and all the seasonings combined make this a bright and tasteful dish. I have ordered this dish more times than I can count, and it is consistently good every time.

My husband ordered the veal prime rib this particular evening. The veal chop was a bone in roast, with a demi-glace sauce, tobacco onions, all served over a bed of mashed potatoes and broccolini. He raved about this dish for days. I am sure he will be ordering this again if it is on the menu next time we return.

We adore The Cart Barn and do not hesitate in making the short drive to LaGrange. I do not consider myself a huge fan of seafood. However, the seafood here is so fresh and delicious, that I have discovered many seafood dishes that I now love. Not only is the food delicious, but the hospitality is second to none. From the first time I visited the Cart Barn, Tony and his son Shawn, made us feel like locals.

Hope you make the trip to The Cart Barn soon and enjoy a delicious meal. Tell Tony the Dining Winos sent you! 😉

George’s Farmers Market

It is my favorite time of year. The weather has started to warm up. The sun shines a little bit longer every afternoon. The azaleas and dogwoods are abundant, and they are blooming. There is a haze of yellow dust from all the pollen in the air, and the grass is getting greener. I eagerly bring out the Birkenstock sandals, paint my toes, and start enjoying an Alabama spring!

Another favorite part of this season is the beginning of planting the garden in our back yard, flowers in my pots on the front porch, and being able to buy some of our favorite produce of the season that we’ve missed over the colder months. One of our favorite places to stock up on local produce, meat, and all other things local is just a short drive from Auburn and Opelika, George’s Farmers Market off Highway 431 in LaFayette, Sturkey proper.

This Sunday, my husband and one of his good buddies went turkey hunting at our family’s place in LaFayette. Since the weather was so incredibly beautiful I suggested that we meet in the middle at George’s Farmers Market, and I would bring a picnic lunch. It was a perfect day for a picnic. The sun was warm, but there was a nice cool breeze. There are several picnic tables, a sandbox, and monkey bars for the little ones to play on just to the side of George’s Market. I have also witnessed many beautiful sunsets at this exact spot. It is a great spot to have a picnic whether it is for lunch or dinner.

After we finished our lunch, I did some grocery shopping for dinner. George’s Farmers Market has all the necessities to stock your pantry, and for a delicious dinner. Some of the things we bought included: Alabama tomato basil pork sausage out of Eclectic, two beautiful Georgia raised pork chops, plenty of sweet baby squash, sweet potatoes, local lettuce from Selma, cheddar cheese out of North Carolina, and I also stocked up on local Auburn honey while we were there, harvested by  Jesse’s Girls Honey. Wild honey is great to add to your diet during allergy season. It is believed that eating local honey helps you build up resistance to the pollen, easing allergy symptoms. Plus, it just makes everything taste yummy. It is a great alternative to other sugars as well.

With our finds we were able to create delicious appetizers and dinner. We grilled the Alabama tomato basil pork sausage, and used the cheddar cheese to make pimento cheese. In my opinion, any southern appetizer platter must have pickles, so we added some canned pickles as well. We ended up with a beautiful local, homemade-style charcuterie board. We paired this with a 2016 Schloss Vollrads Estate Riesling. The Riesling was sweet, crisp, and delicate. It reminded me of wild southern honeysuckle. This pairing was a great juxtaposition to the savoriness of the sausage and pimento cheese. What a great way to start the evening, and dinner.

For the main course, we cooked the pork chops. We first rubbed the pork chops in Uncle Clyde’s Gold Dust Seasoning, out of Selma, and put them on the hot grill. We took the sweet potatoes, diced them up, tossed them in a light dusting of cinnamon, cumin, cayenne, paprika, salt, and pepper and baked them until tender. Right before serving we drizzled the honey over the sweet potatoes. The sweetness of the honey played well with the spices on the sweet potatoes. This is absolutely my most favorite way to eat sweet potatoes! With the baby squash, I sliced it in half and lightly salted the squash halves. Let them sit for about five minutes and sweat. I, then, heated about two tablespoons of butter in a skillet, put the squash halves face down in the butter, and sautéed the squash, flipping occasionally, until the butter starts to brown the squash and a slight char is achieved. I had an elderly lady teach me this preparation a long time ago, and it became the only way I want to eat squash. We put together a salad with our fresh local lettuce and tomatoes. It was the perfect meal. The pork was juicy, tender, and flavorful. The sweet potatoes were delicious and savory. The squash was sweet, soft, yet crispy. We amazingly had enough left over for lunch for one the next day. For the entree, we paired a 2011 Chateau de Vaudieu Chateauneuf-Du-Pape with the pork. The rich, complex flavors of this wine paired nicely with the well-seasoned pork.

George’s Farmer’s Market is open Monday through Saturday from 9 AM to 5 PM and 1 PM until 5 PM on Sunday. Hours may vary if weather is inclement. The drive from Auburn or Opelika is short and scenic. Pack a picnic, and go enjoy their outdoor space. If you are social media savvy follow their Instagram and Facebook pages to stay up-to-date with the events, special hours, and other things they have going on at the market. Some of the events they host throughout the year range from farm to table dinners, sunflower fields, pumpkin patches, Christmas trees, and pie tastings. You definitely can have a good time while grocery shopping at George’s, make new friends, and discover new local products that you will not want to live without.

Pro tip: If you are fortunate enough to catch them with a stock of their fresh homemade sourdough bread, buy it! It is amazing!